All it takes is someone with a vision.
Madison-Plains football coach Jason Hunt was convinced he could change the culture surrounding the Golden Eagles long-suffering football program.
First he had to sell administrators at Madison-Plains that he could do so, earning him the coaching job. Then last year, his first year at the helm of the Eagles, he was able to sell his players on the idea that if they followed his plan they’d become more competitive. After a 3-7 season, which included a convincing victory over 2013 playoff participant Bexley.
Hunt now has the attention of those in the community and a football team capable of turning heads this fall. His next sale job is convincing them that if they play as a team, limit the mistakes that plagued them at time last year, they could produce a winning record.
“I think we’re way ahead of where we were at this time last year,” the coach said. “We’re actually much, much further ahead. Now if we can find a way to value the football, hold onto it and not turn it over, we have a chance of doing some special things.”
The Golden Eagles have a trio of offensive skill position players who earned valuable experience last year and seem poised for breakout seasons.
Everything will start with junior quarterback Jake Vallery. As a sophomore he started nine games and at times did well. There were also stretches where he struggled, and if he can limit those bad stretches the offense has the potential to be explosive.
“There’s a huge difference between being a sophomore quarterback and a junior quarterback,” Hunt said. “At times last year Jake was brilliant. That game against Bexley he was 18 of 21 for 225 yards and four touchdowns. But then there were games where our offense was just horrible.”
Look for returning running back Travis Chaffin, a speedy back who rushed for more that 1,000 yards last year to get more touches. If the Eagles can run the ball more consistently they’ll most likely cut into the 25 interceptions thrown last year.
“I really don’t think we’ll see a game this year where we turn the ball over four times like we did several times last year,” Hunt said.
When Plains is throwing the ball look for budding star Eli Williams to get the first look. He is joined by a collection of talented pass catchers including Hunter Butin, John Vallery and Shane Folden.
“Our skill positions are loaded with tremendous talent,” Hunt said. “But I really think we’ll be more balanced as an offense this year.”
In order to be balanced the team will need its offensive line to come together quickly. The three anchors along the front line include senior Connor Cooley at tackle, junior guard Lee Griffin and senior Joey Datz.
“We’re working on the line, we’ve got three of the guys up there set we’re still looking for the others,” the coach said. “The line is getting better. We don’t need them to be great, if they can be average to good we’re going to do some good things on offense.”
Defensively the coach will turn that strong core of wide receivers around and make them defensive backs, hoping to sure up some major holes the team had back there last year.
“I think our secondary will be much, much better,” Hunt said.
The linebacking crew will be led by Hunter Mayabb and Shane Folden.
Plains will again be tested in the Mid-State League Ohio Division. Defending league champion and state semifinalist West Jefferson and Bexley should both be strong. Other schools like Columbus Academy and Grandview return a number of talented players setting the stage for a strong, balanced league.
“Our schedule is a tough one but we embrace it,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the challenges.”
Chris Miles can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.